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Microchips, and What to do if your dog is lost

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

I wrote this while operating the Central Coast Northern Dog Rescue in Salinas, California. The points raised in this paper are still good advice, and may help many dog owners. On the average of twice a month, someone who lost a dog and was desperately trying to locate his or her lost companion contacted me. It is better to prepare in advance for this eventuality, as it will facilitate finding your companion more quickly if some steps have been taken in advance to ensure your pet’s safety.

Step 1: The Microchip

During 2002, CCNDR started micro chipping nearly all of the dogs placed. All of my personal dogs are micro chipped, and I believe firmly that all dogs should be micro chipped. A microchip is currently the only absolute identification method for a dog that will get it back to the owner if possible.

A microchip is a tiny silicon chip. It is a special chip that when triggered by a radio frequency, returns an answer in the form of a number. A scanner made for that purpose reads the number. The technology is called RFID, for Radio Frequency Identification. It has been used for years in industry, but only since 1990 has it been available for pets.

The microchip is injected into a pet behind the shoulders. It is beneath the skin, and does not harm the dog. Once injected, the dog forgets that it is there.

The next important step is the registration of the chip! It remains useless until the registration is filed with the associated fee. That fee and registration guarantee that the number on that chip now in the pet are recorded in a computer data base, along with the name and information about the owner. The contacts for the owner and a secondary contact are in the computer. If the dog is later lost and recovered by Animal Control or a private party who takes it to a vet, the Animal Control officer or vet tech can scan the dog and make a call to an 800 number to learn how the owner may be contacted. *It is essential to correct this data if any of the contact information changes–i.e. telephone numbers, address, or alternate contacts.*

A tattoo can serve a similar purpose, but a tattoo can be disguised, become illegible or be missed by the party who finds the dog. A microchip is a far more certain method of absolute identification. There is no harm in having both but a microchip is the better of the 2 methods if only one is chosen.

Step 2: Collars and Tags

The second step one can take in advance to protect a pet is to have a proper collar and a proper ID tag on the collar. Many times collars are left off the dog or tags off the collar for all kinds of reasons. I have heard many of them, and none sound very good when the pet is missing. It is best to think about that now–while your pet is still safe at home. Put a proper collar on the dog that will hold the tags securely. Make sure the tag or tags are secure on the collar. Do not leave this to chance. There is an article in the CCNDR Library on collars for your dog. It too, is an important article.

Your pet should be wearing at least one tag that has your own address and phone number. Be sure both are current and that the tag is legible. Tags do wear out, fall off or the information is no longer accurate when phone numbers change.

One of the most likely times that a pet becomes lost is when a family moves. The dog is often confused, the routine-schedule is changed or the property is not yet as secure and all of those can contribute to a dog being lost. Change the dog tag as a part of moving! When the boxes are being packed, purchase a new tag with the new information and put it on the dog. I have had people call to tell me that they had the new tag but did not yet have it on the dog. I can only imagine how badly they must have felt about not having been as thorough as they should have been for their companion that was now missing.

At CCNDR we advise leaving the NAME OF THE PET OFF THE TAG. Some dogs do get stolen. In Monterey County, nearly 40% of the dogs that are reported as missing to CCNDR remain missing. Providing a party with ill intent the name of your dog can only facilitate the theft. Follow the same rules as one follows with children. This is where a microchip may be especially valuable.

Having a second tag such as a license is always advisable. That gives a second method for finding the owner that is independent of the first. Dogs adopted from CCNDR/ADRTC have a contractual requirement that the tag be kept on the dog at all times.

Step 3: Pictures of the Dog

It is an excellent idea to keep current pictures of your dog on file. If you have a digital camera or have a family member with one, keep a few pictures on the computer so that they can later be reproduced quickly and easily should it be necessary. Make photographs that truly show the dog and how it is marked, as opposed to something cute the dog may be doing. I have had photos sent to me of dogs that showed the dog from an angle where it was not possible to make any true identification of the dog. A side and face shot, or a couple of each, are advisable.

Step 4: Description of the Dog

While you are calm and before your pet is ever missing, write out a physical description of your dog. Get other family members or friends to read it and see if they can add to it or help to revise it to readily describe your dog in a concise paragraph.

Sometimes a couple of examples can help people to write such a description. Since we at CCNDR have to write them all the time, I can give examples of what might be in a good description.

Siberian Husky - Bruno, a neutered gray and white male of 2 years, is missing. He has one brown eye, and one eye that is mostly brown but has a speck of blue in it. It is his right eye that has the blue. Bruno weighs 55 pounds and is a light gray and white. He has a light gray mask on his white face and gray ears. His tail and feet are white. He has a light patch of buff just above his tail at the bottom of his back. He carries his tail in a tight curl over his back. Bruno is wearing a green Alaskan collar and was wearing tags when he was last seen.

American Eskimo - Star is a 3-year old spayed female of 23 pounds. She is all white and has a full coat. The inside of her ears appear pink in daylight and she has one broken tooth on the right upper side near the front. She carries her tail up and it is a fluffy tail. Star is very friendly and walks along proudly. She was wearing a red Alaskan collar with tags when she escaped her home.

The point to the descriptions is to describe any unique features the dog may have and to give enough description so that the dog can be told from any other dog of its breed. This can be hard to do with American Eskimo dogs or Siberians that either are black and white, or gray and white, as they are quite common and appear similar to persons not familiar with the breed.

Step 5: Vaccinations for the Dog

Make certain that your pet has current vaccinations. It does little good to have done all the other steps and then skip the vaccination of the dog. Yes, this happens all too frequently. Most of the dogs we get from Shelters have not been vaccinated against Bordetella, for example, and most dogs come down with kennel cough as a result. Those are the lucky ones. Many die of parvo, distemper, and other illnesses at shelters or even after rescue. CCNDR had one lovely 1-year old Siberian Husky male die of parvo virus in the fall of 2002. Imagine the horror of recovering a dog from a Shelter only to have it die in a couple of weeks of an illness contracted while at the shelter.

Step 6: License the Dog

Most cities and counties require that dogs be licensed. Many owners do not do this, but should. The license comes with several benefits:

1. The County or City will now know how to find you should they recover your dog with its tag. A microchip makes this process even more certain.

2. The city or county will send you regular notices letting you know when a rabies vaccination is necessary for your dog. This helps you remember to keep vaccinations current.

3. Any person finding your dog loose with a valid license tag will know you are a responsible owner. Often such people try to help get the dog back to its home.

Step 7: Train the Dog

When a dog is loose, it is at the mercy of members of community. If the dog is obnoxious, ill mannered, untrained and perhaps even unkempt, it is automatically treated differently from a dog that is obviously well mannered, friendly, obedience trained and that appears to have received proper care. Good training and proper care of your dog can be an excellent investment in the safety of your dog should it become lost.

There are many times that these first 7 steps will guarantee your dog’s quick and safe return to your care, should it become lost. In most instances when all of these steps have been taken, the dog is returned in only hours. There are times when these steps have not been enough. Unfortunately, there are times when the owners have not yet taken all 7 steps at the time the dog becomes lost. The following steps are those to be taken in such circumstances.

Step 8: Circulate photos and *visit* the County Shelter, the SPCA, and the nearest City Shelter. Knowing you and having your dog’s picture posted there makes a difference. Sometimes people pick up a dog and transport it to their town or to a shelter further away. That is why it is good to visit shelters anywhere in the area. Give them complete contact information, along with your written description of the dog.

Step 9: Run an ad in the local paper for your lost dog. Advertise that there is a “reward” but do not specify an amount. If you get calls that want to know about the reward, ask to see the dog *first*. If the call is from out of state, *contact the local police*–it is almost certainly a scam to get you to send money first and never see a dog. Unfortunately, there are people who use online newspaper ads to take advantage of other people by acting in a very convincing manner. The stories often go, “We were on vacation and saw the dog running by the freeway. We love dogs and did not want this wonderful dog to get hit, so we brought it home with us. We could not stay to go to the shelter. If you just send the airfare for the dog, we will put him on the plane and he will be back with you in a day!” Those who send the airfare never see the dog, and end up sadder.

Step 10: Place local posters in the area where the dog was lost–and around the general area that shows a picture and a text about the reward–with no reward amount given. Print the description with the poster. This is where that digital photo and description can really help.

Step 11: Also notify vets in your area, and in the area where the dog was lost, that the dog is chipped and the identifying features of the dog. IF someone brings them a dog that is “new”, they can often scan for the chip. If the dog is still un-chipped, give the vet a full and thorough description of the dog and a photo if possible.

Step 12: If you are online, then place notices on all applicable websites that permit pictures and descriptions of lost dogs in your area. Different websites have different requirements. Some are breed specific and some accept any breed as a listing. It is best to spend time learning the requirements and making a correct posting.

When all of these steps have been taken, it is best to be patient. Keep looking for at least 3 months. Many owners quit in a week when they fail to find their dog. This is often far too short a time. We have helped to recover dogs as long as 3 months later. It helps to keep in touch with the Shelters in your area and to keep the online listings current. If the dog was lost in a specific area, and this is near enough, it helps to print handbills and personally spend time handing them out to people who may have seen the dog or been in the area at the time the dog became lost. This method has produced successful recoveries of a dog 3 months later.

If you have questions or suggestions, please contact us through ADRTC.ORG.

Copyright© 2005, 2007, by Gary Wynn Kelly. Please respect the copyright. Contact us for redistribution requests through ADRTC.ORG.